Strategies to Tackle Sensory Overload in School

Home Occupational Therapy Strategies to Tackle Sensory Overload in School
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School can be an overwhelming environment, especially for individuals who experience sensory overload. The bustling hallways, bright lights, and constant chatter can create a sensory jungle that can be challenging to navigate. However, with the right strategies, it is possible to not only survive but thrive in the school setting. In this blog post, we will explore various techniques and tips to help students deal with sensory overload in the classroom.

A school girl using sensory devices

Understanding Sensory Overload

Before delving into strategies, it’s crucial to understand what sensory overload is. Sensory overload occurs when the sensory input a person receives overwhelms their nervous system. For students, this can manifest as heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as noise, light, smells, and touch. Understanding the triggers for sensory overload is the first step in developing effective coping strategies.

1. Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment

One of the most effective ways to manage sensory overload is by working with educators and school staff to create a sensory-friendly environment. Simple adjustments, such as using soft lighting, minimizing visual clutter, and providing noise-canceling headphones, can make a significant difference. Teachers can also designate quiet spaces within the classroom where students can retreat when feeling overwhelmed.

2. Utilize Sensory Tools

Various sensory tools can be incorporated into the school day to help students manage overload. Fidget toys, stress balls, or textured fabrics can provide a discreet outlet for excess energy and sensory input. Schools can work with occupational therapists to identify the most beneficial tools for each student and integrate them into the learning environment.

3. Develop a Sensory Diet

A sensory diet is a personalized plan that includes specific activities and strategies designed to meet an individual’s sensory needs. Working with occupational therapists, students can create a sensory diet tailored to their preferences and sensitivities. This may involve incorporating sensory breaks, deep pressure activities, or proprioceptive exercises throughout the day to maintain optimal arousal levels.

5. Implement Breaks Strategically

Scheduled breaks throughout the school day can be instrumental in preventing sensory overload. Teachers can build in short breaks between activities, allowing students to decompress and reset. These breaks can include time in a quiet corner, a brief walk, or engaging in a calming activity. By incorporating regular breaks, educators can help students regulate their sensory input and maintain focus.

6. Advocate for Classroom Accommodations

Open communication between students, parents, and teachers is essential in addressing sensory overload. Advocating for classroom accommodations, such as preferential seating, modified lighting, or reduced auditory stimuli, can create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. Teachers and school administrators should be receptive to individualized plans that accommodate students’ sensory needs.

7. Foster Peer Understanding

Educating classmates about sensory processing challenges can promote empathy and understanding within the school community. Teachers can incorporate lessons on neurodiversity, fostering an inclusive classroom culture where students appreciate and support one another’s differences. Peer buddies or mentors can also be assigned to provide assistance and companionship, helping students navigate the challenges of sensory overload.

8. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Teaching students mindfulness and relaxation techniques can empower them to manage sensory overload independently. Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery are effective tools that students can use discreetly in the classroom. Introducing these techniques during calm moments can help students build the skills necessary to cope with sensory challenges when they arise.

Sensory overload in the school setting is a significant challenge, but with proactive strategies and support, students can thrive academically and socially. By creating sensory-friendly environments, utilizing tools, implementing personalized sensory diets, and fostering understanding among peers, educators can contribute to a more inclusive and supportive educational experience for all students. It’s essential to recognize the unique needs of each student and work collaboratively to develop and implement effective strategies, creating a learning environment where everyone can succeed.

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Transform Life is an Australian owned provider specialising in evidence based therapeutic support including Positive Behaviour Support, Occupational Therapy, Psychology, Speech Therapy and Behavioural Interventions helping transform lives and families across Australia.

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